Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Private scan

A bit of a catch-up post, this one.

I never thought of myself as the sort of person who would opt for private healthcare. I think the NHS is a brilliant service. The pregnancy related care I have received has been wonderful, and at very difficult and distressing times of my life I have appreciated that I'm not getting a hefty bill alongside my bad news. Add to that the number of people I know whose lives have been improved or outright saved by the NHS, and... I love the NHS. It's large, imperfect, underfunded, understaffed, and awesome.

The first twelve weeks of pregnancy, dated from the first day of your last period, are when the chances of miscarriage are highest - as high as 30% for week 5 (that's the week you miss your period), then the graph curves down, 25%, 20%, 10%, until you get to week 12 when you're down to 1 or 2%. Unless there's a good medical reason to do an early scan, such as starting to bleed or being in a car crash, your first regularly-scheduled NHS scan happens when you are between 11 and 14 weeks pregnant.

By week 8 (three weeks after positive pregnancy test), Steve and I were feeling anxious, but not quite worried enough to start asking for an early scan. I didn't have any panic-worthy symptoms and it must be said that the waiting room of the Early Pregnancy Unit, populated as it is by nervous and upset women who are facing, going through, or have been through a really horrible experience, is not a place anyone would choose to be. And yet, the idea of waiting another 3-6 weeks before we would learn whether I was carrying a viable embryo, or a dead one that would need intervention to eject, was quite nerve-wracking. To make it nice and circular, I then started to worry that if my embryo was healthy then I might be harming it simply by fretting.

Week 9, we caved. The grand sum of £85, which we are currently privileged to be in a position to afford, would buy us a viability scan at a small private clinic a couple of towns away. I squared it in my head by classing it, not as "healthcare", but as an "extra". Sort of like how physiotherapy at a hospital is healthcare for medical reasons, and a massage at a beauty parlour, while having some superficial similarities, is an extra to help you relax.

I had my scan at one day shy of 10 weeks, and Steve and I still consider it the absolute best money we ever spent. Of course we might have felt differently if the outcome had been bad, but as it was... within a few seconds the sonographer had found the heartbeat, which we were able to hear as well as see, on the screen, both the little white shape of the heart itself pumping away, and a more familiar-looking chart of the spikes. The stress just melted off both of us. There followed about two minutes of just watching as various parts of the embryo, placenta, and my innards were shown to us and measured while the sonographer kept repeating wonderful, wonderful phrases like "that all looks fine" and "that's exactly where it should be" plus of course "there's definitely only one in there". Then - possibly in response to the change in my body chemistry as stress and nerves turned into euphoria and relaxation - the embryo started to move, really quite energetically. Arms and legs wiggled about, the head moved, the spine flexed, and Steve and I just sat/lay there utterly entranced.

To make it even better, the fee included not only a few printout pictures, but a DVD which was basically a screencast from the sonographer's computer for the whole scan. We must have watched it dozens of times in the first week, especially the little wiggly dance - if it was a VHS tape that segment would be getting worn out by now.

But then... then, they had to go and remind me why I love the NHS. In the folder with our details, DVD and pictures were some other leaflets. One was a price list of the other services they offer, which is fair enough, they are after all a commercial enterprise. Some of the others though, had pictures of pregnant women with clocks superimposed on their bumps, and dire warnings about how such-and-such a test is not routinely offered on the NHS and time is running out and if you're a responsible parent then really you should be paying hundreds of pounds for these extra tests! For me, this was just going too far and was everything I dislike about private healthcare. Letting me pay money to ease my own non-substantiated fears was one thing. Trying to introduce new fears to make a quick buck, with the added element of shaming those who can't just splash a spare £500... it left a really nasty taste in my mouth.

But the DVD...! I just keep coming back to it. My NHS scan at 13 weeks was every bit as wonderful in terms of seeing the foetus, and the room was comfortable, and the NHS sonographer was friendly and skilled and explained to us all sorts of interesting things, but while we happily paid the £10 for some printout pictures there was a fervent wish that we could take footage home to watch again and again. At the moment Steve and I are trying to decide whether we look into getting another private scan done at some point. We're just not sure if we'll be able to explain that no, we're not looking for testing or diagnosis or gender or anything that specific really, we just want another bit of footage of our offspring waving and the little heartbeat pulsing.


Carie @ Space for the Butterflies said...

I think you had it for exactly the right reasons - some other friends of ours with a similar history had an early scan at 8 weeks just so they could let go of the fear and the panic. I never did with mine, mainly because there was more then enough morning sickness with all three to reassure me. I don't think a private scan is ever something you should beat yourself up over.
For what it's worth you can get some funny reactions on the NHS re testing - H and I have never tested for downs syndrome in any way - we know we'd never terminate a pregnancy for that reason so we don't see the point in taking even one step on that road but I've had some great 'but why?!" reactions along the way!

Mary said...

My reply turned more into a post of its own. :)